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Hernando County, Corrections Corporation of America trade contract proposals

BROOKSVILLE — County officials and the company that runs the Hernando County jail were tossing proposals at each other over the weekend and late into the day Monday to find a jail contract agreement in time for today's special County Commission meeting.

The meeting is slated for 9 a.m. in the commission chambers.

On Sunday, Corrections Corporations of America sent a proposal that included dropping the amount the county pays per inmate per day to $54.80 from the $59.47 Hernando would pay next year under the existing contract. CCA also asked for a three-year extension to the contract, with 3 percent fee increases each year.

The county countered Monday by seeking a per-inmate, per-day cost of $53 with just a one-year extension of the contract until October 2011. Any increase in the cost would be based on the consumer price index.

The CCA proposal asked to end all revenue-sharing provisions, which would eliminate the income Hernando now gets for out-of-county inmates and inmates in extra beds added in 2007.

CCA also asked the county to eliminate all liquidated damages provisions from the contract. These are payments to Hernando if the county is damaged and CCA is at fault for events such as escapes, accidental releases, riots, hostage situations, cases of inappropriate use of force and death or injury of inmates as well as other situations.

The county has sought and received damages under that provision several times in the past, although details were not available Monday.

Under the CCA proposal, the county would keep the $422,000 that was withheld from CCA earlier this year. That money was held back over a disagreement on how the county should be reimbursed for 104 extra beds added to the jail in 2007.

The county's counteroffer on Monday agreed to eliminate liquidated damages, keep the money withheld and eliminate all revenue sharing.

Deputy County Administrator Larry Jennings said late Monday that negotiations were continuing. "We're still talking to them. There is still verbal communication back and forth," he said.

"We would really like to come to a final resolution that we can recommend to the board prior to tomorrow's meeting," purchasing director Jim Gantt had told the CCA representative in an e-mail Monday afternoon.

The county has a five-year contract with CCA that ends in October 2010. But county officials opened negotiations on the provisions of the contract this summer when they asked the company to forgo the 4 percent fee increase that is allowed in the contract to help with the county's budget crunch.

County commissioners voted last week to have a special meeting today to discuss the contract in the open, but CCA officials have said they hope to meet privately with commissioners to answer their questions.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins has been talking to the CCA representatives for more than a week hoping to find savings of a half million dollars to save some county employees from losing their jobs due to budget cuts.

County staff has also been discussing the CCA proposals, rejecting one late last week and crunching numbers on the latest version to prepare for today's meeting.

The jail has gotten considerable scrutiny from county leaders because it was the second-fastest-growing expense to the county's general fund over the last few years. The growth in the fees plus the growth in the inmate population contributed to those increases.

County staff have been looking at ways to reduce the costs and one of the other ideas on the table, increased use of ankle bracelets, is also expected to be discussed today.

In a related development, county officials on Monday also received a report from the business group that examined the jail's budget as part of an analysis done through the chamber of commerce, builders and Realtors groups and Hernando Progress.

The report blasts the county's past handling of the jail contract and makes several recommendations on how to cut costs, including a recommendation that any contract extension include an "opt out" clause with six months' notice.

The report suggests that, if the county seeks new proposals for firms to operate the jail, county officials should be prepared to take over the operation themselves if the private companies' proposals don't save any money.

The report concludes, "it is the belief of this committee that private run entities run more efficiently and at a lower cost. However, it is also the belief of this committee that this was a poorly negotiated contract that lacked ongoing oversight."

Committee members include chairman Blaise Ingoglia and members Richard Matassa, Don Page and Chris Glover.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Fast facts

Jail costs rising

Net annual cost of the jail to the county's general fund:

2002: $3,912,460

2003: $4,535,537

2004: $6,386,796

2005: $7,805,548

2006: $9,427,110

2007: $11,361,615

2008: $11,724,393

2009 budgeted: $12,458,335

2010 proposed: $11,119,865

Source: Hernando County Commission

Hernando County, Corrections Corporation of America trade contract proposals 08/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 9:00pm]

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